Streaks of gold arched across the sky, heralding the coming of the sun, still below the eastern horizon. Gentle wind gusts brushed about Aelin where she stood upon the top of the completed lighthouse, where it overlooked both the river and the bay of Lhûn, her eyes turned westward, gazing out as far as she could see, to the horizon. Even with her elven sight, there was nothing there, but waves. Still, she knew what lay beyond the horizon, and her heart yearned toward it with painful longing.
She turned now, her eyes finding her companion, the High King Gil Galad, who had brought her here to see the completed structure, and the view it afforded.
Her almost-kinsman stood a short distance away, his gaze, rather than looking out toward the horizon, looked downward, and Aelin followed his line of sight to the bay below, where, bobbing upon the glittering surface, waited many fair boats, like graceful swans, the sails furled. Men, like small ants, moved about on their decks.
Aelin smiled at the sight, at once both happy and sad.
"Are you certain you will not also come?" she asked, breaking the silence between them. "Lord Eönwë himself has offered, not just me."
A faint smile touched the side of Ereinion's face, though he did not turn to look at her.
"No, sister," he murmured. "I will stay."
Aelin drew in a ragged breath.
"I have far too much to do, here on these shores," he added, looking up at last, and meeting her eyes. His brows quivered, his eyes pleading with her to understand.
Aelin's heart softened. She could see the little boy in his eyes that she remembered so well, and though he was a king, and she a commoner, she would always think of him as her kinsman.
"And Indilwen still dwells in the Halls of Mandos," he said at last, and dropped his eyes. "So said the son of Fëanor."
Gil Galad dropped his eyes, and Aelin could see the sinew of his jaw tighten beneath the skin.
She lowered her eyes as well, recalling Maglor's words to her, once he had woken.
The last living son of Fëanor could not have been mistaken, for he'd spoken of things only Indilwen could have known.
Softly Gil Galad continued, "I must seek her out, once I too find myself there."
"You think you will-" Aelin swallowed, unable to finish her words.
Gil Galad spoke quietly. "I will not return to the Blessed Realm on the deck of a ship."
A long moment of silence passed.
"But I will return."
He looked up again, and met Aelin's eyes.
"And when I find Indilwen again, I will not delay as I did when she lived on these shores. I will tell her I love her, and ask her for the honor of becoming her husband."
"She will say yes," Aelin murmured, her voice choking softly. "I know my sister loves you."
"And Thallon loves you."
Gil Galad released a ragged sigh, and turned to her, striding to her side. His hands took her arms, and gently squeezed.
"And he will be waiting for you, sister," he said. His grip was strong and comforting, and his eyes told her that he guessed at the emotions that fought within her. "Do not think that your joy is misplaced because my path is different than yours. You are sailing, as you should, and I am staying as I should. You will be reunited with your beloved, and I will be reunited with mine. And when we see each other again, it will seem as if but a few days passed."
In this moment, a glimmer of bright gold peeked over the horizon, lighting the world around them. Gil Galad moved, and circled his arm about Aelin's shoulders. "All will be well, Aelin. Someday. You will see."
And as she studied his eyes in the light of the morning sun, Aelin knew that he was right.
A dreamy sigh escaped Andreth where she knelt before an open trunk upon the floor of the room that had been hers before her wedding to Elros. Beside the trunk, to large to fit within it, sat the small cradle Elros had carved during the winter while he had stayed with Firiel. Everything else that was hers, would fit, though the trunk, at the moment, was only half full while Andreth's mind and heart felt as if they were bursting with thoughts and memories. Lifting her eyes, she gazed about the chamber.
In this room her dreams with Elros had begun. In this room, she had gazed from her balcony northward, missing Firiel, and the sweet scent of earth. From the same balcony she had watched Elros ride away the day after she had realized, with a heart that both sang and sobbed at the understanding, that she had grown to love him. There, beside the fire, she and Elros had knelt, with the cradle he had made between them, where, despite their shared longing, he had found the strength to rise and walk away, and spend the rest of the waning night on the divan in his brother's room. And there upon the balcony they had stood with Firiel, the morning before she had died. Elros had found her, Andreth remembered, still holding Firiel's hand upon the seashore where the old woman had fallen into her last sleep. How tenderly he had carried the old woman's body back to Círdan's house. How strong his arm had been to lean against, as she cried silent tears. How dear a friend, how sweet a lover was Elros. And of all the daughters of Eru Ilúvatar, she had been blessed to win his love.
At the door, the voice of the lady Galadriel interrupted her reverie, and Andreth looked up from the trunk.
"Are you well?" Galadriel asked, gliding into the room. The lady, Andreth noted, fairly glowed. She had always seemed bright and almost ethereal, but there was more about her now. And as the ladies' eyes met, Galadriel smiled, as if they shared a glorious secret.
"I am, forgive me," Andreth said, rising to her feet, and brushing at tears that had fallen onto her cheeks; she had not realized she'd been crying. "Elrond changed Elros' bandages not long ago, and bid him drink some medicine. He is sleeping now, deeply. I thought I might come in here, and begin packing a few things. Lord Círdan kindly told me that all the dresses and other garments I am to take, as well as this fine trunk-"
She looked down at the trunk, barely half full, and the carven cradle beside it. She felt herself blushing at this. She should have finished by now, had she not lost herself in her reveries. "I was remembering."
"What were you remembering?" Galadriel asked as she moved to the open wardrobe, and drew from the half emptied interior a dark blue gown, folding it over her arm as she crossed back to the mortal lady, holding out the garment to her.
"Many things," Andreth confessed, taking the folded dress from Galadriel, and stooping to lay it in the trunk. "Firiel, my childhood home, the sorrow and joy I felt as I grew to love Elros. Many things."
Galadriel smiled, and reached out, catching Andreth's hand in her own.
The elven lady's touch was gentle, but also strong, and as she studied Galadriel's eyes, a sudden understanding filled her.
"My lady," she gasped, reaching for, and grasping Galadriel's other hand. "You are carrying a child also?"
The lady beamed at this, purest joy shining in her eyes. 'Yes," Galadriel breathed. "A girl."
Andreth drew in a ragged breath at this. "And I, a little boy."
Galadriel pressed her lips together, her mouth trembling as if she would cry, before she circled her arms about the younger woman, and embraced her.
"I am happy for you, Andreth."
"And I for you, my lady."
Galadriel stepped back, her hands still upon Andreth's shoulders. "You knew then?"
Andreth blinked again, striving to clear her vision as it blurred again with tears. "I did. His begetting day was but three days after our wedding. I knew the very moment. How could I, being mortal?"
Galadriel sighed at this, and smiled. She did not answer right away, returning again to the wardrobe for another gown, which she folded over her arm, coming back again to Andreth's side.
Andreth flushed. She should be doing this, rather than the lady.
"Your little one's fëa is strong, I think," Galadriel said, kneeling beside Andreth as the younger woman knelt to settle the folded garment. The lady touched a hand to the carven wood of the cradle, and smiled as she ran her finger over the polished wood. "Though the choice of Elros Peredhel has been made, your son's father has in his veins more elven blood than mortal, and within that, is the blood of Maiar as well. Also-"
Galadriel paused, and a hand lifted to touch Andreth's face. "You have changed. Have you not, Andreth?"
Andreth blushed, and ducked her eyes. "After- after our hröar had bonded, I did feel- a change in me-" Andreth looked up, meeting eyes filled with gentle understanding. She sighed. "Elros believes that my life will be prolonged, now. Beyond the span of other mortals."
The lady's eyes searched her own, and slowly Galadriel nodded. "Yes," she murmured. "The grace of the elves has passed to you, my dear, goodly elf-friend. You will, with your lord, live well beyond the span of mortal years."
Andreth smiled, but then she looked away, her eyes traveling out the window to the balcony. Her thoughts moved to Hathel, to Talia, to Baran and Lómë, and their children. To other mortals she had befriended, the young stone mason and his wife, and their little daughter whom Andreth had helped bring into the world, and whom they had named Arwen, Andreth's choice.
"But I would be sad," she sighed, "to live so long, and thus lose dear friends."
Galadriel sighed, and Andreth glanced back to her. The lady's eyes were down, her expression thoughtful. "I do not think you need fear in that regard," Galadriel said at last, and returned her gaze to the young woman's eyes. "For I think perhaps that the Valar will gift a longer life to all of your people, all who go to dwell with you in this new and blessed land."
"I would be so pleased, if that were to be," Andreth said.
Galadriel smiled. "I think it will," she said. And with a sigh, she pushed herself to her feet. Andreth followed her.
Morning slipped gradually into day as the two ladies worked now, side by side, filling the chest together. And always, when Andreth lifted her eyes to meet Galadriel's she saw comfort there, and certainty, and her heart was ever lifted.
Talia stopped short as she stepped through the door of the room, her heart jumping in her throat at the sight of the empty bed. The coverlet had been cast aside, and Hathel was nowhere to be seen. Setting the tray she bore upon the table beside the door, she rushed around the other side of the bed, her heart in her throat, fearing he had fallen. But he was not there.
"Hathel?" she cried, becoming more frightened by the moment as she turned about in the room. "Hathel!"
"Talia!" Hathel gasped, pushing out through the door that led into the bathing chamber. "Are you alright? What is wrong?" His wounded arm, she saw with relief, was still wrapped in bandages, and slung securely against his chest, the cloth white and free of any stain, so the wound had not reopened. His free hand was hastily tugging on something at his waist, but in her frightened state, she was fixed only upon his wounded shoulder.
"Ai, Hathel!" she gasped, relieved at the sight of him. "You frightened me. You should not be out of bed."
"But I needed-"
"If you needed something," she scolded, her relief melting into annoyance as she dropped a hand to her hip and gestured with the other toward the side table, a bowl of steaming soup waiting patiently upon a silver tray. "I could have helped you-"
Talia's words stopped in her throat as Hathel threw back his head and laughed heartily.
"Pardon me, Talia, and turn away for a moment," he said, as he turned his own back to her. "This is hard to do, one-handed."
It was then that Talia realized what he meant, and she spun away from him, flushing furiously, her hands flying to her cheeks.
A long moment of awkward silence filled the air, before she found the ability to speak. "I am so sorry," she said at last, her voice timid and broken. "I suppose there are some things I- cannot help you do."
This timid apology was answered by Hathel's warm voice. "Indeed. I dare say you are right, Talia."
At this, her face only darkened further.
"But do not worry, my friend," his warm voice continued. "Such misunderstandings happen, and you meant no harm."
She felt the scuff of his feet upon the floor, and then a warmth behind her before his good hand came to rest upon her shoulder.
"We are still friends, are we not?" he asked. And his voice was almost timid as he spoke.
"Of course we are," she breathed. "But-"
She turned about, his uninjured hand loosing its hold, though it did not release its contact with her shoulder.
Talia lifted her eyes to his face, her heart thumping more quickly now as she realized how closely he stood to her. His grip tightened gently upon her shoulder. His strength was returning.
Hathel's smile softened. "But- what?"
But I wish we were more than friends, she wanted to say aloud.
"But I would feel better, if you were resting, and eating your mid-day meal," Talia said. "As would Lord Elrond, I am certain."
Hathel dropped his eyes. His broad chest rose and fell. "Of course," he said at last, his voice meek.
He turned away from her, and strode across the room, clambering back into bed, and pulling the coverlet to his waist as he sat against the pillows, his eyes upon her face, almost like a child, hoping now for praise.
Talia smiled and dropped her eyes as she turned away, and retrieved the tray of soup from the side table, before crossing the room to the bed.
She felt her cheeks warming a little as Hathel scooted further toward the middle of the bed, making room for her to sit upon the bed beside him. She did, placing the tray upon the coverlet at Hathel's side.
"I know you can do much with just one hand, but at least allow me to help you with this," she said. "I would not wish to thank Lord Círdan by spilling on his fine sheets."
Hathel grinned. "I would not wish it any other way, mistress healer," he said.
Talia smiled at his words, then picked up the silver spoon from off the cloth beside the bowl, and dipped it into the thickness of the soup.
"Ah, this is good," Hathel said as she ladled it into his mouth, thick with bits of creamy potato, and onion. Her own mouth watered. Indeed, it smelled lovely.
"Then have more," she said, offering him another spoonful.
He grinned, and willingly took it.
"I dare say," he said, swallowing, "this meal is nearly as lovely as the company."
Talia grinned at this and ducked her head again, her cheeks growing warm.
"I should make you blush more often," Hathel said.
"Why is that?" she teased back, offering him a third spoonful. "You enjoy my discomfiture?"
"No," he said, a tone of apology in his voice as he accepted, and swallowed the soup. "It is only that-"
Hathel paused a long moment.
"You're very pretty when you blush, Talia. That is all."
Now, it was Hathel's face that flushed warmly, and as Talia lifted her eyes, his own had dropped, unable to meet her gaze.
"Thank you," Talia murmured, setting the spoon down upon the tray, uncertain what more to say.
"You've heard-" Hathel stammered, "you've heard the tales, I'm sure, about my- my failed rivalry with the Lord Elros, for- for Lady Andreth's affections."
Talia remained silent a long moment, her brow furrowed. But inside of herself, something that had felt caged, something very small, but very real, was suddenly set free as he began to speak, and she realized that for so long, she had wanted, needed him to speak to her of his old affection for Andreth. "I have," she said at last, her words a sigh.
"I have a confession, Talia," he said, and his eyes lifted.
"You were in love with her," she murmured. "You cannot be blamed, Hathel. She is very beautiful. And a kind and gentle lady besides."
Hathel's brow twitched. "I was in love with her," he said, his words hasty as if he feared he would bite them back if he spoke too slowly. "Once."
He swallowed and spoke more slowly. "But that is not my confession."
Talia's hands moved to her lap, and she clasped them, studying them intently as Hathel spoke on.
"My confession, Talia," Hathel sighed, "is that I came to be glad that she chose my rival over me."
Talia did not speak, nor did she move, remaining where she sat, her eyes upon her hands.
"Lady Andreth and Lord Elros were meant for each other. I realize that now. And-,"
Talia looked up. Hathel's eyes found hers.
"And you, Talia, are as kind and gentle a maiden as Andreth."
Talia studied the tips of her fingernails. "You know I was married once, Hathel. I am no-"
"You are as pure and untouched as the first snow of winter, Talia," Hathel murmured. "And far more beautiful."
Talia turned toward him, though her eyes lowered, too shy to meet his gaze. She looked down at his free hand where it rested upon the coverlet beside her. Tentatively, she reached out, and touched the back of it, feeling beneath the skin the tendons and knuckles, the hard, but gentle strength that was Hathel. Her heart jumped as his hand responded to her touch, and turned, clasping her hand in return.
"I have come, Talia," Hathel murmured softly, "to realize that- I feel for you something that I did not share with Andreth."
"Perhaps," Talia ventured, her voice as soft as the wind, "perhaps it is because we do share- something." At last she looked up, and met his eyes, soft, deep and brown, like polished mahogany.
"Perhaps," she whispered, "what you feel for me is returned."
Elrond sat upon the bottom step of the veranda, his arms encircling his knees like a small elfling as he gazed westward toward the dark blue horizon. He did not wish to rise, to go to the edge of the bluff, for he would be able to see from there, the fair ships, white and graceful as swans, that would carry his brother away. His brother, his little sister, the others of the Edain.
When would he see him again? How long would Elros live, now that the gift of mortality had been given to him? Would Elrond have the chance to see him again, before-Elrond drew in a ragged breath, loath to think the word- death claimed him?
And Andreth? How would she fare? And her child, Elros' son? Elrond's nephew, the first of many great kings of men, the seed of his brother, his dear, beloved brother.
Elrond picked up a small pebble, flat and grey, unremarkable, and studied it a long moment before he tossed it away. He knew now, in the center of his heart, that his brother's seed would forever be in his heart, and in his thoughts. No matter how many ages passed, no matter what they did, he would watch over them. And he would love them.
A soft sound reached his ears from behind. Elrond felt a presence, a quiet whisper as of a voice he had never heard before, but had waited for, all his life.
His heart leapt painfully, and he scrambled to his feet, expecting-
The lady Galadriel and the lord Celeborn approached, regal as ever, though the lady's eyes were filled with greater light, her face with more joy than before.
Elrond smiled as the pair descended the steps, Galadriel's arm looped through Celeborn's. He bowed, partly in respect, and partly to hide the faint blush upon his face. For Elrond well understood the reason for their joy, most especially Galadriel's. And well he recalled the night of his brother's wedding, how he had caught a glimpse of this very pair furtively leaving the festivities.
"You are radiant, my lady," he said. "You look wonderfully well."
"I am," Galadriel said. "We were hoping you were, also."
"I am as well as can be expected."
The expressions of both the lady and her lord softened at these words and they traded a silent look.
"Come with us, Elrond," Celeborn invited him warmly. "We wished to go down into the city, and look upon the ships."
Elrond looked down upon the stones beneath his feet. "I have not yet seen the ships."
"Then come with us, and look at them," Galadriel said. "They are beautiful, like swans upon the water. It would cheer your weary heart. All your patients are resting, and well cared for. You need not stay as a prisoner in Círdan's house."
Elrond drew in a breath, ready to protest.
But then the lady reached forward, and touched his arm. "Please, Elrond."
The words were spoken with the Lady Galadriel's voice. Her face was her own, and her eyes.
But for a moment, as he met her gaze, Elrond fancied that he was gazing into the eyes of another, of one whom he did not know, and yet knew as well as he knew his own thoughts.
"Come with us Elrond," Celeborn added, his deep, warm voice shaking the young elven lord's thoughts. "It will do you good."
Elrond looked away from Galadriel to meet the eyes of her lord, and found himself nodding. "Of course. I will come," he said. For the sweetness he felt, the presence that seemed to live in the air about these two, was one to whom he could never say no.
Galadriel smiled, as did Celeborn. And the silver-haired elf lord clapped a strong hand upon Elrond's shoulder as the three of them started away.
By the time the sun had touched the horizon, Elrond had seen the finished ships waiting in the Bay of Lhûn. They floated lightly upon the water, graceful, and fair, and beautiful as swans, as Galadriel had promised.
The sight filled him with a faint twinge of awe, and Elrond was glad he had come down to see them. For though the sight did make him a little sad, it also filled his heart with a sense of peace, and of hope.
And more than that, something sweet and intangible, an unseen presence seemed to whisper to him, to comfort him and fill his heart with courage, reminding him that whatever sorrow he faced, he was strong. And he would be able to endure.